If you are trying to come up with other types of meat to smoke on your holiday or want to try something that is a little out of the norm, you should try smoking lamb. Don’t let others fool you about lamb. Lamb can sometimes get a bad reputation for tasting dirty or overly gamey.
But it is, in fact, quite the opposite. There is also a considerable difference between lamb and mutton, even though it comes from the same animal. It is straightforward to smoke lamb and is no different than smoking any other cut of red meat.
This article will go over some of the differences between lamb and what makes it unique compared to other types of meat. We will also teach you how to treat the lamb, prepare it and smoke it properly so that you have an outstanding end product.
What Is Different About Lamb?
Lamb is just a young sheep that is under a year old. Some of the best spring lambs are around three months old, so it is very different from mutton.
Mutton is also a sheep that has matured for at least three years. Mutton is also a cheaper cut of meat when compared to the lamb, which is why lamb sometimes gets a bad reputation because it is associated with mutton, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Lamb is going to be much more tender and has a much lower fat content than mutton. It also has a delicate and nice flavor which is not gamey in the least. If you prepare and cook it properly, it can turn out amazing.
The Different Cuts of Lamb
Surprisingly enough, lamb has more cuts of meat than pigs or cows, with nine different cuts. Each cut can be handled and cooked differently, but all the cuts are still very tender when smoked.
The rib cut consists of the rack and the chop sections of the lamb, usually cut into lamb chops or used as the rack of lamb. The shoulder consists of the shoulder, which is in the front of the body, and the neck sections.
This part can be used in several ways. The hindquarters consist of the rump, leg, and shank. These cuts are usually much tougher than the other cuts and need to be cooked low and slow. The loin section is the most tender part of the lamb and is usually the most sought out and the most expensive.
The breast section is on the lamb’s belly and is generally too tough to eat whole because of the tendons and connective tissues running through the cut. This cut is usually used to make ground lamb.
For a comprehensive diagram, check out the Calvey Achill Mountain Lamb website
What Should I Do to Prepare Lamb Before Smoking It?
The only thing you should do to prepare lamb before smoking is to season your meat with a rub or marinade. However, it depends on the cut you are planning to use.
If the cut has larger bones, you could remove them to allow the lamb to cook faster, but this isn’t necessary. Since lamb is also so lean, you don’t need to remove any fat, just any silver skin or tendons that may get in the way of carving or serving.
One good thing to do to lamb before smoking it is either using a strong-flavored rub or marinade on the cut. If you plan to use a marinade, which is the most common method, you need to let it sit in the marinade overnight or at least 6 hours or more.
This will allow the marinade to penetrate the meat and soak up all those flavors in the marinade. If you use a rub, make sure to use bold flavors to compliment the taste of the lamb.
Smoking Lamb Low and Slow vs. Hot and Fast
The difference in using either of these methods depends on the cut of meat you plan on using. If you plan to use a tougher cut of meat like the rump, shank, or leg, you need to use the low and slow cooking or smoking method.
This will allow all the connective tissue, tendons, and fibers within the meat to break down over time. If you cook this cut of meat faster for less time, the end product will be very tough.
But if you plan on cooking lamb chops or the loin of the lamb, then we recommend you cook or smoke the meat hot and fast. Lamb loin is really at its best at a medium-rare to a medium temperature which can only be acquired by cooking it hot and fast.
If you slow cook a lamb loin, it may still be a good end product, but it will not be as tender as the cut of meat should be as it is intended to be.
What Is the Best Smoker for Lamb?
When it comes to the type of smoker to use to smoke lamb, you should be using something easy to use and very efficient. A pellet smoker or pellet grill will allow you to smoke lamb with ease by doing most of the work for you.
Lamb is a very delicate meat and will need some attention. So, a smoker that will do most of that work for you will take the weight off of your shoulders. A pellet smoker will feed to correct the amount of wood into the smoker when it needs it and maintain the smoking chamber’s temperature.
Therefore you don’t have to worry about feeding the fire or checking on the temperature constantly. Pellet smokers can be expensive, but they are worth every last penny when it comes to smoking anything.
What Is the Best Wood Choice for Lamb?
Cherry is the best choice of wood for smoking lamb because of lamb’s mild taste. If you use a strong wood like mesquite, it can overpower the flavor of lamb.
Because there are many wood flavors readily available, there are other woods that are very acceptable and will work well with lamb. As a general rule, you should stay on the mild side of wood choices with things like cherry, apple, and pecan.
We like to reserve apple wood as a choice for pork cuts, but we follow similar rules for smaller or thinner cuts. For Thick cuts of lamb or any other mild meats, you can go to medium wood choices like pecan or hickory.
Finally, some wood pellet manufacturers have mixed blends that work well on thicker lamb cuts, like shoulder or shank. Always test the wood pellet mix ahead of time on meat like chicken breast so you can adequately gauge the smoke profile before cooking your expensive cut of lamb.
Smoked Lamb Shank
When of our favorite cuts of lamb for smoking is the shank. As for lamb shank, it is on the scale of tougher cuts to benefit most from a long slow cook.
Cooking long and slow will allow the connective tissue the time it needs to break down without drying out the meat. The addition of a flavorful marinade to the lamb shank will add to the naturally fantastic taste. This recipe will bring together the best spice that will compliment a lamb shank.
- 4 bone-in lamb shanks
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tbsp. Fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tbsp. Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp. Red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. Dry mustard
- 2 tsp. Smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. Onion powder
- 1 tbsp. Course ground black pepper
- In a large bowl, add all the ingredients except for the lamb shank and mix them well. Place the lamb shanks in a plastic bag and pour the mixture marinade over the shanks to coat them well. Seal up the bag and move everything around, so the shanks get covered in the marinade. Place them in the fridge and allow them to sit in the marinade overnight.
- Turn on the smoker and fill up the hopper with wooden pellets of your choice. This cut of lamb will benefit from a stronger flavored wood like hickory, but your favorite mixture might work well.
- Remove the lamb shanks from the marinade and place them in the smoking chamber with the lid closed. Allow the lamb shanks to smoke in the smoker at 225 degrees until the lamb shanks’ internal temperature is 193 degrees. This should take around 5 hours or more. Make sure to check the temperature closest to the bone as possible.
- Remove the lamb shanks from the smoker and allow them to rest for at least 30 minutes to finish cooking and retain all their juices. Serve and enjoy!
So, if you decide to go with an excellent cut of lamb in the smoker for your holiday meal, keep an open mind. It may smoke like other types of meat the same way, but the flavor will be vastly different and delicious.
You may like it so much that you will give up beef! Probably not, but one can only dream. As long as you follow the recipe and let the smoker do the work for you, you should end up with a beautifully smoked lamb shank that you and your guests will love.